8 things you might be doing wrong if you’re unhappy in life

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

I’m the first to admit that happiness isn’t meant to be permanent.

In fact, if we didn’t know sorrow or pain, how would we appreciate the joy that comes in contrast?

At the same time, we’re not supposed to be unhappy all the time, either.

Negative emotions will certainly occur in life as you navigate its twists and turns, but they shouldn’t be all that you experience.

So, what are you doing wrong?

Why do you find that, on balance, you’re a lot more unhappy than happy?

If you feel that this is the case for you, here are eight things you might be doing wrong if you’re unhappy in life.

Once you recognize them, you can start to make changes and hopefully introduce more joy and less unhappiness in your life.

1) Working too hard

Is your work-life balance out of whack?

This is one of the main factors that makes people unhappy.

Think about it – you work hard every day chasing promotions and raises and building up your bank account.

But if you don’t have opportunities to spend your money or spend time with people you care about, then what are you working so hard for?

I know there are times when you just have to buckle down and make hay while the sun shines.

I’ve lost my job before and thrown myself back into work when I found a new one. I know what it’s like to feel like you need to pad your nest while you can in case financial disaster strikes again.

Of course, your work can also be fun, interesting, and fulfilling.

But if you’re unhappy all the time, you may need to reset your balance. Work out how much of your time is spent at work and thinking about work versus at home, with family and friends, and doing things you love and see if you can’t tweak.

2) Not focusing on relationships

At Harvard University, some forward-thinking researchers started a study of happiness over 80 years ago.

It’s now the longest-running study on happiness ever in history and has shown some really interesting results as they followed participants over their lifetimes and onto the lifetimes of their children.

Guess what they found made people the happiest?

Money? Success in business? Fame?

None of these, in fact.

The biggest finding from the study is that the happiest people have the strongest relationships with people they care about.

Whether these are family, romantic, or friendship-based, it’s having deep connections with people that gave participants the most joy, while loneliness did the opposite.

Lonely people actually had shorter lifespans, while having great relationships with others was positively correlated with better health.

So if you’re unhappy in life, one of the things you’re doing wrong might be that you’re not focusing on building connections with the important people in your life.

3) Trying to stand out

Most people in the world don’t end up being exceptional by definition. Otherwise, being exceptional would be the rule!

If you’re a perfectionist or you’re trying to be the best in the world at something so you stand out, you could simply be making yourself unhappy.

Wanting to do great things is great. Pushing yourself to do the best that you can do is admirable and can be tremendously fulfilling.

But the key is to realize that your best is what you should be aiming for.

If you constantly compare yourself to others, you might keep finding that you come up short. There’s always someone quicker, stronger, faster, or smarter lurking around the corner, and that can be a very depressing thought to always be focused on.

How about focusing on just doing your personal best instead and being happy and supportive of others doing their best?

4) Chasing a dream

My friend Tommy can sing.

He can play the guitar and write decent songs.

But he’s also 45 years old and so far hasn’t had any record execs banging down his door.

He has a small following online but not enough to sustain a career by a long shot.

All this would be fine if he were just content to be a singer as a hobby and produce his art just for the joy of expressing himself.

But instead, it makes him miserable. 

See, he wants this to be his career, and I hate to say it, but unless you’re an absolute musical genius or incredibly good-looking (both is even better), you’re probably not going to make a breakthrough career in the music industry at age 45.

I think there comes a point when you have to face reality and accept that being told “you can be anything you want in life” simply isn’t true.

People are happier when they accept their limitations. They might still try to improve and challenge themselves constantly throughout their lives, but they’re also realistic about their expectations.

5) Not taking time for yourself

I’ve always been something of a people pleaser, so I honestly say that taking time for myself was as weird a concept for me as anything else.

Maybe it is for you, too.

But over the years, I’ve learned to take time to focus on myself more and others less.

Perhaps this is a consequence of getting older as well.

No matter the reason, it’s important to take time for yourself even if you’re terribly busy or maybe precisely because you’re so busy.

Taking time out to nurture your own needs, check in with your feelings, de-stress, and (dare I say it?) treat yourself can help you find your center and feel a whole lot better about your life.

How do you do it?

When your schedule is already full, something has to change.

You’ll have to take time away from something else and dedicate it to yourself instead, which can be a really hard thing to do.

But believe me, it’ll pay off in spades down the line.

6) Not expressing your emotions 

Do you find that you hold back your emotions, keeping them bottled up or pushed way down into the depths of your soul?
If so, you’re not alone.

This is something we learn to do as children. Our society frowns on expressing extreme emotions, whether that means anger, sadness, or joy.

Think about it.

When we’re kids, and we don’t get our way, we’re told to hush and not shout or scream or cry.

When we get something we really like, we’re told to calm down and not get so excited.

Emotional regulation is an extremely important thing to learn to help us function in society. We need to express our emotions, not just ignore them.

In fact, holding in your emotions is linked with depression, increased stress hormone levels, and even suppression of our immune systems.

How can you let things out in healthy ways?

Talking about our feelings is a great way to get them out without having to resort to screaming, smashing plates, sobbing, or slamming doors.

Writing about them in a journal is also highly effective. You can write about your sadness and your joy without anyone judging you. Burn the paper afterward if you need an extra release!

7) Holding onto old injuries

We’ve all been hurt.

I’ve had my heart broken, and I’ve also been a heartbreaker, and to be honest, I’m not sure which feels worse.

I’ve also been let down and kicked around all over the place.

When I was younger, I was the sort of person who was really affected by these emotional injuries and definitely held a grudge like a pro.

Where did that get me?

Well, I spent years avoiding people I felt had hurt me, and that never made life easy.

I also thought a lot about these old injuries, and each time was like ripping the scab off to let the pain bleed out all over again.

But what happens if you let those scabs heal over?

By learning to let go of things and forgive people, the pain gradually diminished.

Sure, I still have my battle scars, but now I’m able to wear them as badges of pride. These are the things that made me into the person I am now.

8) Not practicing gratitude

I’m actually thankful for those hard lessons that life has taught me.

And I know there will be more to come my way.

However, being mindful of the good things in my life helps me to practice gratitude and takes my focus away from negativity.

This change in thinking can improve your health, your outlook, and your relationships.

Just remember that you don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving – you can be thankful all year.

Final thoughts

If you’re unhappy in life, you may be doing these eight things wrong.

If any of them scream your name, begin by focusing on these. Start small and see if you can’t make some significant changes in your life to make yourself happier. 

6 counter-intuitive secrets to living a happy life

If you recognize these 7 feelings, you know the pain of unrequited love